Chocolate milk ban in the school lunch rooms may not be effective

Citing insufficient nutritional value, some schools have banned chocolate milk from their lunch programs and offered skim milk instead. However, that move may be counterproductive as a new study published in PLOS ONE has found that kids who no longer have the choice on chocolate milk take 10 percent less milk and waste 29 percent more.

The researchers came to their conclusions after looking at school lunch programs in 17 Oregon elementary schools — including 11 where chocolate milk had been removed from the cafeterias and substituted with skim milk. Although this strategy removed the added sugar in chocolate milk, the researchers saw negative nutritional and economic consequences.

While the kids did have a lower intake of added sugars due to the switch, they were also found to be consuming less calcium and protein. In addition to seeing lower milk sales and higher milk waste, the study team also found a 7 percent drop in school lunch participation.

Nicole Zammit, a former nutrition services administration at Eugene School District in Oregon, said she was not shocked to see that banning chocolate milk had negative consequences for the kids.

“Given that the role of the federal school meal program is to provide nutritious meals to students who may otherwise have no access to healthy foods — I wouldn’t recommend banning flavored milk unless you have a comprehensive plan in place to compensate for the lost nutrients when kids stop drinking milk altogether,” she said in a statement issued by Cornell Food & Brand Lab.

Study author Brian Wansink, who runs the food lab at Cornell University, suggested that schools have other ways they can persuade kids to select white milk other than simply banning chocolate milk.

“There are other ways to encourage kids to select white milk without banning the chocolate,” he said. “Make white milk appear more convenient and more normal to select. Two quick and easy solutions are: Put the white milk in the front of the cooler and make sure that at least 1/3 to 1/2 of all the milk is white.”

“So if you’re thinking of banning chocolate milk from your school, think twice about the ‘chocolate milk consequences’ of getting rid of it and whether it’s worth it for your kids,” Wansink said.

Another study published in December 2013 produced mixed results for a different school lunch health initiative: new school lunch standards that require a serving of fruits or vegetables on every student’s tray.

The report, published in the journal Public Health Nutrition, found that an extra $5.4 million worth of fruits and vegetables were served each day. However, kids threw about $3.8 million of those fruits and veggies in the garbage each day.

“We saw a minor increase in kids eating the items, but there are other ways to achieve the same goal that are much, much cheaper,” said study author Joe Price, an economics professor at Brigham Young University.

Other research by Price, conducted in conjunction with the Cornell Food Lab, found that paying kids to eat their fruits and veggies is actually a more cost-effective method.

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